Happy Father's Day! — whether you're a father or not!
I'm sure you're aware that there are millions of children and teenagers in our country who grow up without their biological father. And I'm sure you've heard many tales about fathers who are deadbeat dads. Yet, if you were to ask absent fathers how they feel about it, you'd get a different picture; one of not wanting to have lost their children, one of trying to be with them, and perhaps one of feeling unworthy as a father.
I know something of this. I have three children, five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren, most of whom I rarely see or hear from except for my youngest daughter, Janet. You'd think, by now that I'd know something about being a father, but the truth is, I'm still trying to figure out what all that means. So, I simply accept the fact, that I am a father. More importantly, I still think fondly of my father, even though he's been dead for 45 years. I remember all of his good, and that triumph'sover the bad. That way, both he and I will always be, HAPPY FATHERS.
So, you baseball aficionados' out there, back to the front page of this morning's worship bulletin: Have you remembered who it was that said, "Who's your Daddy?" (Pedro Martinez) Do you remember the circumstances around why he said it? (He was pitching for the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series against the Yankees when he lost the game in theinning. Afterward, he called the Yankees "his daddy," or the team who dominated on the day.) The next day the fans all began to chant, "Who's Your Daddy?" and the baseball commentators began using the phrasewhenever they referred to the team they thought was going to win.
"Who's Your Daddy?" has come to mean more a great deal more for those millions of children I mentioned and others, than just a winning team. In Ghana, West Africa — where this stole was hand-woven by a man, I discovered that many children bore their mother's surname, not their father's name. When I asked why, I was told, "Because in Ghana, we always know who the mother is."
Sarah, in this morning's Scripture, is the Mother-of-all mothers. We heard how she was filled with joy and laughter, all because she was old
and that Isaac was born when she and Abraham were well past childbearing ages? It's presented as a funny story, filled with humor and dialogue: "I didn't laugh," she said. "Oh yes you did. You laughed," said the Lord. Sarah was a FUNNY MOTHER.
Humor in the Church is something that's been catching on over the past 35 years, as it also has in medicine and even in business and industry; but, as we witness day-by-day, not quite yet in our humorless government. Elsewhere in the world, the Christian religion tends to be taken with more seriousness, except in Africa where it is joyfully serious.
Back in Ghana, you can expect to be awakened at 5:30 on a Sunday morning by a group of drummers and a "Singing Band" who will be right outside your bedroom window to joyfully announce, at a decibel level that will cause you to rise and levitate from your bed, that "This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it!" Their expectation is that you will rise and "Be joyful." And, that later in the morning, you will participate in a 3-4 hour church service that will be filled with both joy and seriousness — words that are not opposites.
The opposite of joy is sorrow, and the opposite of serious is frivolous. It's possible to be both joyful and serious, but it's hard to be both frivolous and sorrowful. I think that's where some Christians have a problem. They try to be happy-slappy-clappy with their praise in worship, but they don't really know how to be joyful with a concept as serious, as GOD.
Throughout the Old Testament and the history of the Jewish people, there runs a long vein of mocking humor that's attributed to God. And don't forget, Jesus was a Jew, and was very familiar with his history and tradition. So, from today's story in Genesis, where Abraham bowed to the ground and laughed upon recognizing God's divine sense of humor, to Sarah's laughter at the birth of Isaac . . . to David's plea in the Psalms for God to bring some joy and gladness into his life; and for people to be told in the Holy Script that if they fall asleep during the sermon, they willsurvive — go ahead, try it, I dare you — Christians are called upon to preserve that wonderful Hebrew history and tradition, and to come together with "joyful" songs.
Make no mistake about it, humor is God's gift to the Church. If you've ever been to or carefully examined the great cathedrals of Europe, and cranked your neck way back to look up at the grotesque gargoyles staring down at — you'll remember how funny-looking they are. They strike you with both a sense of God's majesty, and the humorous absurdity of the human condition. So, when I think about the source of joy in my life as a father, as well as the absurdity of my own human condition, I have to laugh. What else can I do? Cry? No, I like to laugh. Some people tell me I laugh too much — that I have too much joy in my life.
I don't know from whom or how you obtained what humor you have in your life. I know I am my father's son. I'm made in the image likeness of my father. I'm built like him — bulky up the top, medium height, same kind of hair, heavy legs, and with the same athletic and death-threatening heart. I have his compassion for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, who or what they are or what they believe.
I'm also made in the image likeness of my mother. And if you think this nose is something — you should have seen her Roman beauty. My mother was a piece-of-work, and I'm blessed with many of her personality and intellectual characteristics, but most of all, her humor and eccentricities.
A little story: When my father died, he left her a big old, Mercury with a V-8 to drive around in. She would take that car from 0-60 in five seconds flat, and then back off to toodle along at 30. It would drive other Ft. Lauderdale drivers crazy. She was in her 90's when I learned that she rear-ended a Volkswagen campervan belonging to two young, fancy-free, surfers. I called right away and when she picked up the phone I asked, "So, Mom, tell me. How fast were they going when they backed into you?"
. . . "Well," she said, "How did you know they weren't married?"
Humor comes from innumerable sources and directions. All of life, and true religion, has the power to make us joyful, about the most serious of things. Dante immortalized this in his epic poem about the soul's progress toward God, by calling it, "The Divine Comedy."
When Leo Tolstoy explained how he became a Christian, he said it was because he "had become amazed at the capacity of Christians to be JOYOUS, in the face of life and death."
From the ancient treasure trove of rabbinical wisdom, there's the story of an old rabbi who was asked by one of his students, "Master, when should we make peace with God?"
"Not until one minute before you die," he replied.
"But, Master," the disciple protested, "we dont know when we shall die."
"Precisely," answered the rabbi. "Do it now!"
"Do it now!" Don't wait until you fall asleep as Eutychus did. Dame Julian of Norwich, the century English mystic, reminded us that there is a bit of Eutychus in each one of us when she wrote: "l saw the Lord scorn the devil’s malice and reduce his powerlessness to nothing, and He wills that we do the same thing. On account of this sight, I laughed loud and long, which made those who were around me laugh too, and their laughter was a pleasure to me. Then I thought l would like all my fellow Christians to have seen what I saw, for then they should all laugh with me.
For l understood that we may laugh, comforting ourselves and rejoicing in God, that the devil has been overcome.”
I close with this 500-year old prayer by Sir Thomas More, a man of unfailing good humor and piercing English wit: "Give me, Lord, a soul that knows nothing of boredom, groans and sighs. Never let me be overly concerned for this inconstant thing, I call ME Lord, give me a sense of humor, so that I may take some happiness from this life and share it with others. " Amen.